Over one-third of new U.S. electricity came from solar this year

For the first three quarters of 2014, more than one third (36 percent) of the new electricity capacity built out in the U.S. came from solar systems, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. During the first three quarters of 2013, a bit less than a third (29 percent) of new electricity came from solar, and only 9.6 percent of new electricity came from solar in 2012 in the U.S.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that solar continues to break records. The industry is starting with a pretty small slice of the electricity pie — still less than one percent of total U.S. electricity — and has started booming in recent years. The price of solar panels is at its cheapest time in history, and new types of financing have emerged to help boost solar panel installations on the rooftops of homes and businesses as well as help fund those large ground-mounted solar systems being built in the deserts, with power sold to utilities.

solar panel

The third quarter of 2014 was the second largest quarter ever for solar panel installations in the U.S.; 1.35 gigawatts were installed in the quarter, up 41 percent over the same quarter in 2013. That brings the total amount of solar panels operating in the U.S. to 16.1 gigawatts (and 1.4 gigawatts from solar thermal power plants, which use mirrors to concentrate sunlight to produce heat and run turbines).

While solar was the second largest source of new electricity in the U.S., it of course followed new natural gas power plants, which are also delivering power at one of that sector’s cheapest points ever. Still, the amount of solar currently being installed is immense. According to the report:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]Every three minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is flipping the switch on another completed solar project…[/blockquote]

The push getting solar onto rooftops and into the deserts of California, Arizona and Nevada isn’t just coming from the market. It’s also been pulled by incentives, both state and federal, as governments look to bring in carbon emissions-free power, which can provide electricity but won’t contribute to climate change. Some state incentives, like those in California, are starting to phase out by design as the solar industry becomes more competitive.

But the U.S. federal incentive, the “investment tax credit,” called the ITC, which provides a 30 percent tax credit on operating clean power projects, is set to expire in 2017, and the solar industry is particularly worried about what the removal of that incentive would do for the industry. If the ITC isn’t renewed beyond 2016, industry-watchers predict that growth in the solar sector will be growth starting in 2017, though growth could ramp back up somewhere around 2020.